“My Story” Chapter 12

“My Story” – by Randall Butisingh.

(Reminiscences during my life beginning 1913)

CHAPTER TWELVE

As noted in the last chapter, after the death of John Isaac Fox, I was transferred from St. Augustine’s Anglican School to the Buxton Congregational School. I was about twelve years old then. This school had recently been rebuilt and had better teaching facilities, except there were no classrooms and the distractions in one class temporarily affected the other, especially when floggings took place.

I would like to describe what the physical conditions of the schools were at that time.  There were no classrooms in the whole school and no desks provided for the lower primary school.  Benches, six to ten feet in length with no backs were provided.  Where there were no desks, the children used slates exclusively, sitting or standing.  The benches were sometimes too high and the children were inclined to shake their feet.  They were admonished for this natural inclination and this resulted in cramps in some cases.  There was additional discomfort also because of congestion which caused fidgeting.  Because of this uncomfortable situation, pupils were often taken outside and made to stand for about half an hour or more for a reading lesson while the teacher perched comfortably on a stool.  Only the head teacher and the senior assistant had tables; some head teachers had chairs which they supplied from their own resources.

Each class had an easel and a blackboard which was used for all subjects, except reading.  At every Annual Examination the questions were set on the blackboard – a difficulty sometimes for the nearsighted child.  The writing on the blackboard, in those days, had one good feature; it was clear and legible.  Handwriting among pupils was also good.  Transcription was taught as a subject and copy books were used to encourage a particular style of cursive writing.  The common pen was used and only the J nib was encouraged as it gives a good effect with the light and heavy strokes. The records in those days in many cases were superb calligraphy.  My own handwriting to this day, which is good, was due to much practice we had in school.

When I transferred to the Buxton Congregational School in 1924, I was selected to study for The Buxton Scholarship Examination.  The maximum qualifying age was thirteen.  I was among the three pupils selected. The other two were a Richter and Esther Fung.  At that time we were all in the sixth standard, the last class in the Primary School.  We were with the regular class during school hours but had to remain an extra two hours after school, attend Saturday classes and evenings at the head teacher’s house to do the additional subjects required for the examination.  We had to do a lot of memory work from the text books in English History, Geography of the British Isles, Hygiene and Nature Study.  We were also required to do drawing.

Besides the head teacher who was trained, there were also two qualified female teachers who helped us; one his wife, who was also a trained teacher and the other a holder of the First Class which she obtained by sitting the Teachers’ Certificate Examination held yearly in the colony.

In April 1925, we sat the exam.  We were assessed on the basis of the County Scholarship.  To my surprise I qualified although I had very low marks in Arithmetic which was my bugbear.  My friend Ballgreene Nehaul,who was attending high school at the time’ topped the list. Because of his age, the sponsors wanted to award the scholarship to the second runner up, who was African and to give a special scholarship to my friend; but his father would have none of it and promised to take the matter to court.   So Ballgreene Nehaul, an Indian, was awarded the first Buxton Scholarship, and Claude Holder , the youngest of us all got a scholarship from contributions made by the villagers.  Esther Fung, third runner up went to high school funded by her parents.  My parents were not in a position to afford me a high school education.

I returned to St. Augustine’s School after qualifying for the Buxton Scholarship, persuaded by the new head teacher Mr. C. F La Rose  A.C.P., who then tutored me for success in my pupil teacher’s examinations.  Mr. La Rose was perhaps in his mid forties.  He hailed from Corentyne, Berbice, was married with four children.  He was an indefatigable worker and a disciplinarian, but his human relationship was poor and he was not liked by his pupils or staff.  He would not let his teachers sit at any time during school hours and would burden teachers and pupils for another half hour after dismissal in the afternoon with a boring talk on some topic or the other.  The teachers did not like this encroachment on their time after a hard day’s work.  One teacher had to attend classes for the Teacher’s Certificate Examination and was usually late, but she was given leave of these “extra talks” only after she complained to the manager.

Mr. C. F. Larose had also passed the Associate of College of Preceptor’s Examination, the A.C.P. which he proudly displayed behind his name.  This was an opportunity for mockery by the pupils who also disliked him.  A.C.P. for them was Assistant Coconut Peeler.  A coconut peeler was a man who took the dry husks off the coconut with an iron bar stuck in the ground. In those early days during in the history of education, apart from the professions, very few people acquired a degree of any kind.  A Matriculation pass by a teacher was considered a great achievement; an Inter Arts outstanding.  In my early days as a teacher I knew of only three persons in the teaching profession who acquired the Bachelor of Arts Degree.

My head teacher, Mr. La Rose, whether liked or hated, was a man of unflagging perseverance, and he would instill it in his pupils.  I, now in the evening of my years, remember quite clearly the poem I have memorized on this virtue: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try, again; Time will bring you your reward, try, try, try, again; Patience is a test in life; For the goal have courage to strive; Joy will come as a just reward, Try, try, try again. He did not only teach that, but he practiced it.  He failed the Matriculation Examination fourteen times before he succeeded; he wanted so very much to pass in logic, and he did not give up until he achieved his goal.

Up till 1930, St. Augustine’s School had a branch not far from the parent school.  The branch accommodated pupils up to the middle division (standard four).  In that year, for economic reasons there was a merger; Mr. La Rose, was transferred to the Port Mourant Anglican School in Berbice, and Miss Dorcas Glasgow who was head of the branch succeeded him.  Miss Glasgow, a spinster, began her teaching career as a head teacher at an the interior school among the Amerindians . She held the Teacher’s Second Class Certificate, a rare achievement for those who did not enter Training College, but studied privately or with the help of fellow head teachers.  I was relieved by those transfers but my relief was short-lived as the very strict discipline fostered by Mr. La. Rose was not maintained at the same level.

I was placed in a class with eleven and twelve year old pupils, all Africans accustomed to beatings at home.  They knew no deterrent except fear, and I, a young Indian was unable to inspire that in them.  As a pupil teacher I was not supposed to administer corporal punishment, but when matters seemed to be getting out of hand, I would use the pointer which I kept for pointing on the blackboard on the legs of the pupil. The urchin would then let out a wail to draw attention and I could be censured by the head teacher. Time and again parents would come to complain against me and I was asked by the head teacher to desist from the practice. No wonder discipline was impossible in such a situation and the learning of the child suffered. Added to this predicament, I was the butt of their taunts and nicknames. The female head teacher seemed not able to prevent the indignity and embarrassment they caused me.  Because of the situation in school, I would stay home and malingered for weeks at a time.  On one occasion, the school manager had to threaten me.

I was about 18 years old now. My dislike for school grew, so when I was about to sit the Third Year Examination, I willfully withheld the closing date for the Exam, when the others had forgotten. I was determined to leave school.  The head teacher found out a few days later and admonished us for not reminding her.  She sent in the late application with an excuse which was signed by the manager.  The application was accepted and I studied hard for the three months preceding the examination.  I passed the examination and decided to remain a little longer in school.  My salary then was fourteen dollars a month.

With all my setbacks as a teacher in the system, I truly respected and admired the head teacher Miss Dorcas Glasgow.  She was a good and interesting teacher.  She was a woman of character, conscientious and concerned with the behaviour and conduct of her pupils, especially the girls.  She was unmarried, but was proud of her independence as she herself put it; ‘I never had a man on top of me – meaning she was her own boss all the time.  We had a good relationship, but the stress of teaching and controlling pupils who did not show respect or appreciation for my efforts caused me to leave teaching school at the age of twenty.  I was doing a job I did not like and it was telling on my nerves.  That was around 1932 when the Teachers’ Certificate Examination was suspended.

Advertisements

5 Comments »

  1. patanjali ramlall said,

    Sir,
    Kudos!

    You have captivated my interest and instilled an awe in the kind of physical punishment dished out to children, regardless of infractions. To whip someone for not coming up with the right answer is not only frightful, but is really inhumane, especially since not everyone is academically inclined.
    I thought I was the only one who realised that the British system of corporal punishment was not only brutal, but excessive. I remember one day Mr. Yearwood severely beating a young female for bringing a letter to him from her brother. The crime? A young man constantly insulted her chastity and she complained to her older brother and not to Mr. Yearwood. His ego got the best of him for being by-passed and he retaliated with anger and inflicted a brutal hand whipping to the young girl. I knew Mr. Yearwood was wrong, and really hated that act, but power at any level is still power, and many a teacher got away with impunity for physically abusing children..

    All in all, your writings have brought back some interesting points, good or bad, rich or poor, and at times seems enchanting, like I wish I could be there and be a part of this or that, out on the beach or catching fish.

    Thanks,
    your pupil,
    Patanjali.

    • randallbutisingh said,

      Pat, that was a good observation. That teacher was prejudiced..
      I saw him order young Wilkinson off the stage when he went to
      do an Indian dance with some Indian children. However I had
      good relationship with him as a teacher.

      • patanjali ramlall said,

        Definitely!

        And he was one of the best teachers I have ever known. You are aware of my gratitude. Nevertheless, your compassionate method of teaching was the best, and I’ll never forget that.

        Your pupil
        Patanjali

      • randallbutisingh said,

        Thanks Pwt for that favourable comment.

  2. Gary Rayman said,

    Twenty -Five years later in 1950 “Rustic” Fung won the Buxton Scholarship and entered Queens College at Form 2A. We remained together until fifth form. He may have been the son of Richter Fung.
    Gary Rayman


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: